14. Lost time.

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With only a few days left until the Alice Marie passed into the Sol system, any spare crew members were helping the escape pod survivors to prepare to transition from their lives in the deep space colonies to the higher gravitational environment of Earth.

Increasingly strenuous physical workouts were being scheduled for their daily sessions in the gym, their nutritional intakes were closely monitored, the final medical checks were being done and many of the colonists were taking advantage of the ship’s data store to get themselves better acquainted with Earth’s recent history and social customs.

Lazzaro had spent the last couple of days keeping busy with his regular duties, (not always easy without his security clearance) whilst simultaneously trying to stay out of Toes’ way and find time to track down his missing pass.

He had wracked his brain for a clue as to where he could have left it and retraced every route he had taken in the short space of time between when he had definitely last used it and the morning he’d awoken to find it missing, but he had now come to the conclusion that it was lost and he was going to have to come clean with the captain and take the chewing-out he knew would accompany the admission that he’d somehow mislaid it.

He was on his final search, once more walking the corridors leading from Toes’ cabin to his own before he accepted defeat, when he met Carli coming out of an elevator.

“Hello stranger,” she greeted him, with a mischievous smile, “have you been avoiding me? I thought after the other night you would have been a bit more sociable.”
She winked at him in a way that could only be described as a lascivious, stepped forward and, to Eric’s surprise, planted a kiss on his lips which lingered considerably longer than a friendly peck should have done.

“Um, wow, erm…” Lazzaro stammered, “haha, no. Avoiding you? No, I’ve just been busy, that’s all,” he paused, frowning, “What do you mean “after the other night” “, he asked, “what happened the other night?”

“Oh come now Eric, you hadn’t had that much of the captain’s grog,” she pushed him playfully in the chest and laughed at his bewildered expression, “and I would have liked to think I was a little more memorable than that, too.”

Lazzaro continued to stare stupidly at her and seemed at a loss for words, causing her smile to fade, replaced by a pout that, had he been paying more attention, would have warned him to tread carefully from this point on.

“Oh I’m sorry, were we supposed to meet up somewhere then..?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Too late, Eric caught the hostile tone in her voice and smiled in a way he hoped would placate her suddenly black mood.

It didn’t work.

“You really don’t remember do you? Well that’s just charming,” Carli snapped at him, “it just goes to show, I’m just another casual conquest to you aren’t I?”

“But…” Lazzaro began.

“Well don’t bother trying to remember, it obviously isn’t that important to you.”

She started to walk away, then turned sharply and reached in her pocket, “Oh, and you might as well have this back.” She tossed something to him which he fumbled and dropped on the floor; His security pass!
“Although now I’m wondering why I didn’t just hand it in to the captain straight away.”
And with that she marched off, leaving Lazzaro standing helplessly in the corridor, looking from her retreating figure to his pass and back again and wondering what the hell was going on.

How had that situation deteriorated so quickly?
Eric didn’t understand what he’d done to upset Carli so completely, let alone how she’d managed to get hold of his pass, but it was clear that she was angry about something he had no memory of, which was what concerned him the most and he made his way back to his cabin with mixed feelings; relieved that the missing pass had been returned, but troubled that he had no way of telling how he’d lost it.

Carli maintained her angry stride down the corridor until she was sure she was out of Lazzaro’s sight, then ducked into the transport bay and quietly closed the door.
She went to a service locker and reached inside, felt for a catch that dropped the hidden rear panel and took out a small burst-com unit.
This compact communicator allowed the user to send long or complex streams of data in a single compressed pulse, transmitted on an undetectable sub-space frequency.

With the rest of the crew occupied with readying the colonists for their new lives on Earth it was unlikely that Carli would be disturbed, but she still took precautions. Taking a few tools from the locker, she quickly removed the cover of the door control panel and bypassed the access circuit, meaning it couldn’t be opened with a security pass from outside, although no malfunction would show up on the bridge.

Confident she was safe from immediate discovery, Carli powered up the burst-com and began to speak in a low, controlled voice, her eyes closed in concentration.

“Operational progress report with additional security data attached.
The target was successfully intercepted and…” she paused, a catch in her voice betraying some inner struggle, “..seduced, just over forty eight hours ago. The drug you provided seems to have had the desired effect and although the subject was fully cognizant and, um,” she cleared her throat, “physically capable, he now has no memory of the night in question. Nor does he appear to remember how he came to lose his clearance pass and the scanned data from that is also included in this transmission.”
She took a deep breath and continued.
“As long as he remains under the impression that he came to my cabin and left it there, there is no reason to believe I risk arousing suspicion. When the sedative element of the drug took effect, I left with the pass, copied the security data and slipped it under my bed, just in case I was required to “accidentally” find it later to prove he’d spent the night there. However, he appears to be convinced by the deception and I will now move on to the second phase of the operation.
We will be arriving in Earth orbit in four days, by which time I trust you will be fully prepared for the next stage to begin.”

Carli opened her eyes, frowned as if trying to recall a detail that had escaped her, shook her head then concluded, “I’ll wait to hear from you once you are in transit, I will check this link again in two days and expect you to be ready. Carli out.”

She carefully stowed the comm unit back in the service locker and re-enabled the door controls, slipping out into the corridor unnoticed and going in search of Diaz, who she was meeting for a late lunch. Carli had arranged it this morning, thinking that the more of her time she could publicly account for, from this point on, the safer she would be.

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